WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - During a Monday afternoon meeting, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved funds to help bring National Gypsum back to Wilmington, but with a stipulation.
A $350,000 incentive agreement was reached after a second public hearing was held Monday. Many in attendance said they were opposed to the NHC board's move, but added they were happy with how the county handled the process.
"We were concerned there were questions that had not been asked," said Harper Peterson, a former Wilmington mayor. "We brought this information to the city and county a month ago. We didn't know ourselves but we thought it was worthwhile to ask this question when a heavy industry puts out air emissions, that put out hazardous air pollutants. You have to ask the question and it was answered."
Commissioner Rob Zapple said the way the county is now handling growth-related issues is encouraging.
"We are now looking at it from all different angles," Zapple said. "We have a tremendous conversation going on between the regulators, the applicants themselves, the county commissioners, our own staff. I think the only thing I'd add to it now and I think this is going to happen, is that we have more time for the public to be engaged in this as well."
Commissioners asked National Gypsum on Monday to require additional stack testing to monitor air quality.
John King, the vice president of business development with National Gypsum, also spoke at the meeting, saying the company does not make formaldehyde but that a water vapor byproduct of producing drywall contains trace amounts of formaldehyde.
National Gypsum said last week it was caught "flat-footed" by the public's concerns about formaldehyde emissions. The NC Division of Air Quality issued a permit for National Gypsum's Wilmington site in 2016 saying the company is permitted to emit up to 8.77 tons of formaldehyde per year.
Researchers for National Gypsum, which closed its Wilmington plant in 2009, said approximately 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of formaldehyde would be emitted annually.
On Monday, Zapple asked the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to start formaldehyde testing in regular air quality tests.
When Zapple asked King how many New Hanover County residents will fill the 53 proposed jobs, King said 45.
"That's with this is all about, working together with our local government to attract jobs, to get people into jobs or into better jobs," Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Director Natalie English said.
Wilmington City Council is expected to consider the National Gypsum incentives during a Tuesday meeting. City council delayed a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 20, one day after the county Board of Commissioners took similar action, saying there were too many unanswered questions about formaldehyde and other concerns.
Mayor Bill Saffo said Monday he does not think the county's decision will influence city council's vote.
He did say he feels "very confident," and is "leaning very heavily towards voting yes," after many meetings with National Gypsum, the NC Department of Environment Quality, and the New Hanover County Health Department.
City council members Charlie Rivenbark and Kevin O'Grady also said they do not believe Monday's decision will influence the Wilmington City Council vote.